With a Better Health Through Better Understanding theme, Minority Health Month promotes the importance of providing information to diverse groups and populations that is both linguistically and culturally competent. When individuals and communities have access to health information, resources, and services that identifies and respects others’ formal and casual languages, religious and cultural behaviors and beliefs, and is provided with easy and convenient access to accurate health resources, the potential for better health outcomes is greatly improved.
Individuals who have accurate information that relates directly to how people in the community live are excellent ambassadors for promoting health information. As healthcare providers, nurses can help advocate for healthy lifestyle choices and activities. But if they aren’t taking into account a patient’s cultural beliefs and traditions, those recommendations have less chance of actually being put into effect.
Nurses are in an excellent position to help patients by being aware of their cultural norms around language and dietary choices and guidelines, activity choices, mental health approaches or stigmas, sexuality, and even how family decisions are made. Each of these areas can have a significant impact in a patient’s choices and so each decision is frequently made through several layers.
For Minority Health Month, the Office of Minority Health has several fact sheets and guidelines that can be downloaded for free. This Health Literacy and Limited English Proficiency: 2023 Reading List offers resources and links for nurses to find additional information that relates to communities in general and specific considerations for diverse populations. As a nurse, you may work with several populations and understanding those cultures will help you treat your patients more effectively. If they aren’t proficient in whatever the primary language of your practice is, work to help find a translator and to offer printed information that’s been translated to their primary language.
Building up a rapport is as important as letting people know the straight facts about minority health. You can do that in several ways, but having an open and curious approach to each patient’s life is a good beginning. Ask questions that are open and honest, and always ask permission first. Many people will be more willing to talk when someone asks permission to talk about a difficult or potentially embarrassing subject. If they decline to talk about something, respect that as difficult as it might be. It’s likely that under additional pressure, they might not give you a full and accurate answer anyhow.
If you can build trust, your patients will be more likely to open up to you about their concerns, about what’s bothering them, and about what’s not working for them. You’ll be in a better position to help them find an approach to long-term health that will be sustainable.
Ensuring that patient’s understand what you are relating to them and having information they can access or take home in a language they are proficient in, will put everyone ahead of the game. That linguistic and cultural competence is an essential piece of a comprehensive approach to minority health education and wellness.
April is National Minority Health Month, and this year, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) is focusing on the impacts COVID-19 is having on racial and ethnic minority and American Indian and Alaska Native communities and underscoring the need for these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated as more vaccines become available. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain vulnerable populations, such as non-Hispanic African Americans, individuals living in nonmetropolitan areas, and adults with lower levels of education, income or who do not have health insurance, have a higher likelihood of forgoing getting vaccinated.
This year’s theme for National Minority Health Month is #VaccineReady. The goal of this campaign is to empower vulnerable populations to get the facts about COVID-19 vaccines, share accurate vaccine information, participate in clinical trials, get vaccinated when the time comes, and proactively practice COVID-19 safety measures.
Studies show that COVID-19 vaccines are effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19 and the CDC recommends that everyone get vaccinated as soon as they are eligible. As more vaccines become available, there are steps communities can take to protect themselves until they can get vaccinated:
Wear a mask to protect yourself and others and stop the spread of COVID-19.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Stay at least six feet (about two arm lengths) from others who do not live with you.
Avoid crowds. The more people you are in contact with, the more likely you are to be exposed to COVID-19.
To learn more about National Minority Health Month and to receive updates on news and activities, sign up for OMH email updates and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
My first experience with “minority health” came during my Master of Public Health degree program. I served as a member of the speakers’ committee for the annual Minority Health Conference at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
We sought to raise awareness about issues related to health disparities and how to take collaborative action across different professions. Our participants included academic scholars, researchers, public health practitioners, community leaders, human rights advocates and policy makers.
We often hear the terms “health disparities,” “health inequities” and “social determinants” as they relate to populations, locally, nationally and globally. So let’s start with a few basic definitions:
Health equity means achieving the highest level of health for all people. It requires valuing every human being equally with continuous efforts to address avoidable social and economic inequalities, historical and contemporary injustices. Health equity also seeks the elimination of health and healthcare disparities.
Health disparities are defined as a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with one’s social or economic status. Health disparities negatively affect groups of people who have experienced greater social and/or economic obstacles to health due to characteristics historically linked to discrimination or exclusion. These characteristics include but are not limited to:
Racial or ethnic group
Social Determinants of Health
Social determinants of health refers to environmental conditions in which people are born, live, work and play that affect a wide array of health and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.
Ways to Observe National Minority Health Month
There are several easy ways to participate in National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme is “Bridging Health Equity across Communities.” During April, consider doing the following activities:
Learn more about your own family’s medical history and keep a good record of your health conditions and treatment plans.
Read, watch or listen to local news about emerging health conditions in your community.
Public Health Involving Minorities Is a Global Concern
National Minority Health Month recognizes health disparities in the United States, but coping with public health issues involving minorities remains both a local and a global problem. Fortunately, there are local public health events that address issues disproportionately affecting minorities, such as the Houston Heart Failure Management Conference, Save a Life and the Adult Congenital Heart Symposium.
In addition, international organizations have addressed global public health issues affecting minorities. The national ministries of health in the African region, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization/African Region are evaluating Ebola outbreak response capabilities, which have been strengthened through my collaboration.
The best way to teach more consumers about public health – and especially the health of minority groups – is through education. Staying informed, getting involved and getting connected are powerful ways to raise awareness and learn about the health problems affecting minorities.
As we approach the end of April, let’s not forget National Minority Health Month, and its theme – “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity.” As a nurse, you can continue in the coming months to champion the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) goal: “a nation free of disparities in health and health care.”
One of the bright sides in the effort to close the disparities gap is the institution of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Now millions of Americans who belong to minority groups have access to health coverage they can afford. The impact of the ACA in communities nationwide is just starting to be felt as preventive services have been expanded on a no-cost share basis (meaning no co-pay, even if you haven’t met your insurance deductible).
Major examples: colon cancer screening, Pap smears and mammograms, well-child visits, and flu shots.
What’s astounding is how comprehensive the preventive care coverage is now. For example, all Marketplace health plans must now cover a long list of women’s services, on a no-cost share basis (when delivered by an in-network provider), including these items.
*Breast Cancer Genetic Test Counseling (BRCA) for women at higher risk *Chlamydia Infection Screening for women at higher risk *Contraception, FDA-approved methods, sterilization, and patient education (with certain exceptions) *Folic Acid (for women who may become pregnant) *HIV screening (for sexually active women) *Osteoporosis Screening (over 60 or higher risk) *Tobacco Use Screening and Interventions
Be aware of what new or old preventive services may be necessary for protecting your health. (Are you getting a flu shot every year well before the start of flu season?) That’s probably the best place to start. But then think about what diseases are close to your heart and educate yourself about how you can educate your patients on how to prevent them.
Maybe your focus is on birth defects, which unfortunately strike 1 in 33 babies born each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some abnormalities at birth are minor but others are serious, which is why birth defects are the leading cause of death before age one.
A simple way to fight one type of birth defect is with the folic acid (now under ACA prevention coverage). National Folic Acid Awareness Week at the beginning of January highlights the need for this B vitamin. It helps prevent defects in a baby’s brain and spine when taken by mothers before and during pregnancy. Many resources are available to you as a healthcare professional, if you’d like to join this highly effective campaign.
What are you going to do to commemorate this National Minority Health Month? We’d love to hear about your interests and experiences with reducing health disparities.
Jebra Turner is a health writer in Portland, Oregon. Visit her online at www.jebra.com.
As you know, April is National Minority Health Month, our opportunity to increase public awareness of the health disparities that unfortunately still impact ethnic and minority groups in the American population.
Because the theme this year is “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity,” nurses are perfectly poised to take up the banner for highlighting the role of prevention in closing the health disparities gap.
After all, nurses naturally take on the responsibility for patient education. Sometimes, though, they’re hesitant to take that health message beyond patient rooms and expand its reach to the wider community. But it’s easy to do that and a wonderful way to increase the visibility of nurses as a critical part of the nation’s healthcare team. Here’s how.
Send in a letter to the editor of your state, city, or community newspaper, with a call to action for improving the health of our minority populations. You can do it under your own signature or that of a group of nurses if you belong to an association, for instance. Does that sound like a daunting task? It doesn’t have to be — if you keep these tips in mind.
*List a few talking points that you want to emphasize, with statistics that back up your points, perhaps centered on disparities that affect your racial or ethnic minority or that of your patients or co-workers. For instance:
“African American women are 34 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than White women.” (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “REACH U.S. Finding Solutions to Health Disparities: At A Glance 2010,” National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health.)
*Stick to just a few talking points so that you can keep the letter short – about 150-300 words – making it more easier for a publisher to slot in the paper.
*Or, respond to something covered in that newspaper about minority health disparities or prevention within the past 72 hours. Present a perspective that’s a bit different based on your own unique experience as a nurse.
*Be sure to end with your contact information, including your name, title, organization, address, and the phone number or email address where you can be most easily reached. (Editors with usually contact you to confirm this information before printing your letter.)
*In case your letter isn’t published, don’t give up — the paper may have been overwhelmed by reader letters on that topic or others. Try another angle — there are many ideas for you to consider at http://minorityhealth.hhs.gov.
Not feeling too creative? Take the sample letter below and customize it to represent your own views.
The health disparities you highlight in [cite article and date of article you are responding to], carry a steep cost for this nation and dampen our productivity and the well-being of our friends and neighbors. Here in [insert city, state etc.] we contribute to that burden by having [add key reference data for your community e.g. some of highest rates of childhood obesity among Hispanic children; the lowest percentage of mothers seeking prenatal care across all racial and ethnic groups; and the highest rates of death from diabetes among African Americans].
We must confront this persistent problem and achieve better health for everyone in the United States. The federal government has made a commitment to end health disparities and its National Stakeholder Strategy for Achieving Health Equity provides us with a blueprint to help reduce health inequalities and build healthier communities across the nation. Elected officials, health providers, and community leaders and residents here in [name location] must take that blueprint and work together to set goals and identify solutions that will help racial and ethnic minorities and other underserved people in our [insert locality – state/city/county etc.] live longer and healthier lives.
Jebra Turner is a freelance health writer in Portland, Oregon, but you can visit her online at www.jebra.com.
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